Project Management

Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

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Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
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Viewing Posts by Cyndee Miller

Urbanization and the High Price of Human Progress

By Cyndee Miller

I’m a city person—no ifs, ands or buts. I may have been stuck in the suburbs growing up, but I literally packed up and moved out the day I got a part-time job. I’m not alone, of course. The U.N. predicts 68 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in cites by 2050.

In an era of massive urbanization, a question arises: Who belongs in a city? Especially when it’s one of those shiny new megacities—only possible with a megadisplacement of existing residents.

For OluTimehin Adegbeye, the answer is simple: “We’re all already here. That answers the question of whether or not we belong,” she said in her Ted Talk at Global Conference.

A native of Lagos, Nigeria, she called on the audience to consider the human cost of progress. Case in point: the former inhabitants of Otodo Gbame, a coastal Lagos fishing community demolished to make way for a prime beachfront development.

It’s part of a push for Lagos to become “the next Dubai.” But, as Ms. Adegbeye says, “You don’t need to be the new Dubai when you’re already Lagos.”

The reality is that in cities from Lagos to Philadelphia (where conference was held), it’s often the residents of the so-called poor neighborhoods that give a location its personality, its culture. They’re also usually at the forefront of innovating solutions. They have to be.

And yet they’re losing this battle. Ms. Adegbeye encouraged people to push past their “but what can I do” mentality and recognize their power.

“We must hold our governments and ourselves accountable for keeping our shared cities safe for everyone in them, because the only cities worth building—indeed, the only futures worth dreaming of—are those that include all of us, no matter who we are or how we make homes for ourselves,” she said.

Project managers heard the message loud and clear—and gave her a standing ovation.

The four other Ted Talk speakers offered their own powerful takes on the theme of possibility: Jess Kutch on building an economy that works for everyone; Janet Stovall on the role of business in creating intentional inclusion; Anna Piperal on the promise of e-government; and Sandeep Jauhar, on the parallels of the emotional and biological heart.

For those who covet an opportunity to stand in the magical red circle, PMI announced a TedX program that will put a few select members up on stage next year. Stay tuned.

What story would you tell?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: October 08, 2019 03:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Welcome to The Project Economy

by Cyndee Miller

Pretty much every pundit out there has a theory about the future of work—and how things will actually get done. For a while, it was all about the gig economy. Now perhaps I’m horribly biased, but I’m way more intrigued by The Project Economy: execs structuring their organizations around a portfolio of projects designed to deliver the most value to their stakeholders. It’s happening—and you, my friends, are in a prime position.

Project managers are in the vanguard of The Project Economy, said Bob Safian, former editor of Fast Company, at the start of day two of Global Conference.

“Projectization is moving through the economy,” he said. “It’s happening—I hear it talked about in the halls of power in companies around the world.”

The future of work will be defined by tasks, not titles, Mr. Safian said. Technology is making existing structures within organizations feel archaic. And younger workers are looking at their careers as a sequence of tasks—a.k.a., projects—too.

People will work on a project, deliver value and then move on, said Tech Mahindra’s Vikram Nair during Sunday afternoon’s Fireside Chat with PMI president and CEO Sunil Prashara.

With that comes a new set of “it” skills. Forget soft skills—or at least stop calling them that. Stanford University’s Behnam Tabrizi is out to rebrand them as power skills—since they’re what will give people power in the future. It’s about communication, empathy and what he called understanding yourself, or “being clear about what your role is in the world” and “showing up in the most authentic way possible,” he said.

It’s also about embracing diversity: You need to have people on your team who don't look like you, said Frederic Astier of Accenture.

The Project Economy is going to require a different mindset—no matter your age or title on the org chart. “We must all possess a willingness and ability to adapt to the constant changes that are coming our way,” Mr. Safian said.

Chaos will rule. “The old rules of business don’t apply anymore,” Mr. Safian said. “We have to recognize that there are no new rules. There’s no real consensus about what’s going to succeed today.”

It’s a little scary, but also wildly exciting. So, are you ready?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: October 06, 2019 06:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Embraer Reaches New Heights: Lessons From a Record-Setting Jetsetter

by Cyndee Miller

It’s one thing to deal with disruption. But it’s a whole other to disrupt yourself—and put your self-proclaimed cash cow on the line.

With its new E190-E2 line, Brazilian aviation giant Embraer didn’t just design, develop and deliver a family of next-gen commercial jets. The company did it faster than any other competitor had with similar aircraft. And Embraer leaders readily admit it couldn’t have gotten there—or won the 2019 PMI Project of the Year Award—without some serious project management. 

In accepting the award, Luís Carlos Affonso recognized the role of PMI and A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) in providing some structure to the company’s project management journey. “We would not be here if not for PMI,” said Mr. Affonso, the company’s senior vice president of strategy and innovation.  

Fernando Antonio Oliveira, the company’s program director, noted that like a certain organization we all know, Embraer is celebrating its 50th anniversary. While it’s certainly a major milestone, he encouraged project leaders to keep looking forward: “Don’t think about the project results,” he said at the awards gale. “Think about how you’re shaping the future.” 

Of course, we can’t talk about game-changers without mentioning the other Project of the Year finalists:

Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd. and L&T Hydrocarbon Engineering rose above super-short timelines and months of monsoons to futureproof the country’s largest offshore natural gas field.

Société de transport de Montréal reimaginined one of the largest public transit rail systems in North America—making room for even more passengers.

Want to learn more? PM Network will take a deeper dive into all the project action over the next few months. Plus, you can check out video case studies on PMI’s YouTube channel.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: October 06, 2019 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Hunt for the Disagreeable Giver

By Cyndee Miller

“Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.”

This seriously ranks as one of the world’s worst management dictates. And finally—to my eternal appreciation—someone is calling out all those folks who have uttered the phrase.

“If people only bring up problems when they have solutions you’re never going to hear about problems,” said organizational psychologist Adam Grant in the opening keynote at PMI Global Conference.

Squashing any mention of issues creates a culture where people doubt themselves. And in that kind of environment, bold ideas are left to die—or they’re taken elsewhere.

So how do you build a culture where the next great idea is pushed forward instead of put down?

A lot of it comes down to who you hire, according to Mr. Grant. You’ve got to seek out the givers and avoid the takers. “Givers are trying to figure out, ‘What can I do for you?’”

Takers, on the other hand, are the ones who steal all your ideas and take credit for all the work. “If you let even one taker onto a team, paranoia will start to spread and the givers will stop caring,” he warns. “The negative impact of a taker on a project or team is usually triple the positive impact of a giver.”

Think the Lannisters on Game of Thrones.

But how do you suss out the takers? I mean, it’s not as if they self-identify in the interview process.

Mr. Grant’s advice? Ask the right questions. Think about the behavior you’re most worried about on projects—team members taking credit from others, for example—and ask candidates how often they think that happens. If a person’s answer is something to the effect of “deep down I think people are fundamentally selfish,” that typically means deep down they’re fundamentally selfish.

But don’t confuse being agreeable with being a giver. Agreeable takers are usually the people who avoid conflict. They may be nice to your face, and then stab you in the back.

In theory, agreeable givers may seem like the best allies. But in reality, they’re often too afraid to rock the boat when an idea strives to push the status quo. In reality, it’s the disagreeable givers who make the best champions of new ideas. They may seem gruff and tough. But they’re the ones who will play devil’s advocate, who will challenge and poke holes in your brilliant ideas—all because they have your best interest at heart.

Think Sherlock.

And once you get them on board, they’ll run through walls to make it happen.

“Disagreeable givers can’t wait to fight for a new idea and they’ll be more credible advocates,” Mr. Grant says.

Have you found your disagreeable giver?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: October 05, 2019 09:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

PMI + TED: Possibility Speaks

by Cyndee Miller

There’s something about TED Talks that suck you in. Those big red letters on a stage signal this isn’t just another presentation. And TED’s 18-minute rule is genius. The videos are long enough to provide real substance—while feeling zero guilt about forwarding them on and building a veritable viral sensation—and short enough to keep you from checking your social feed. So I was wildly curious about what to expect walking into the closing session of this year’s EMEA Congress: As part of PMI joining forces with TED, attendees got a specially curated series of five live talks around the power of possibility.

“What’s possible in the world is really bound by two things if you think about it,” said Sally Kohh, a political pundit and TED speaker who hosted the event. “There’s what’s literally possible—what we can actually, tangibly, scientifically, physically do—and then there’s what we think is possible. And often we don’t try things—we don’t even think things—not because we can’t do them, but because we don’t think we can. We circumscribe our own aspirations and sense of the possible, and therefore actually constrict what’s possible before we even start.”

That all sounds lovely. But it also conjures up images of sunshine, kittens and unicorns. Then in walks Mona Chalabi, data editor at The Guardian, with her take on the possibility of information. Aside from my own personal addiction to news and numbers, I spend a lot of time wading through research reports. So I was instantly intrigued by what Ms. Chalabi had to say: “When it comes to numbers, especially now, you should be skeptical.”

Instead of blindly accepting (or rejecting) data, she challenged attendees to ask three questions—our very own sniff test of sorts:

  1. Can you see uncertainty?  
  2. Can you see yourself in the data?
  3. How was the data collected?

Data can be powerful, but it can also be used to drive division. Boston Consulting Group’s Julia Dhar discussed ways to find common ground by reshaping the way we talk to each other. It starts by separating a person’s identity from the idea—letting us ”open up to the idea that we might be wrong.” One tip from Ms. Dhar that project and program managers can immediately put to use: Devote 10 minutes of your meeting to real debate.

Anab Jain tackled another topic familiar to almost anyone in business, including most project professionals: trying to predict the future. Her advice? Stop being so passive.

“Today it can feel like things are happening too fast—so fast that it becomes really difficult to form an understanding of our place in history,” said Ms. Jain, co-founder of design and innovation studio Superflux. It can be so overwhelming that “we let the future just happen to us,” she adds. “We think of our future selves as strangers and the future as a foreign land.”

As you might suspect based on the sunshine, kittens and unicorns comment, I don’t exactly ooze optimism. So my ears perked up once again when human rights lawyer Simone George and Mark Pollock spoke about the dance between optimism and realism—or something else. “The realists have managed to resolve the tension between acceptance and hope by running them in parallel,” he said. Mr. Pollock had lost his vision at age 22, but was still running marathons around the world when he met Ms. George. After an accident left him paralyzed, the now-married couple went on a new quest, exploring the outer edges of spinal cord injury recovery with exoskeletons.

The final talk came from Ingrid Fetell Lee, who dug into the science behind joy. Sure, sometimes it’s just a superfluous extra driven by the inconsequential—ice cream cones, fireworks, bubbles—but Ms. Lee argues it helps create lifetime of happiness. “What we should be doing is embracing joy, and finding ways to put ourselves in the path of it more often.”

Check out more insights and info at PMI @ TEDSummit 2019 on 21-35 July in Edinburgh, Scotland and at the big PMI Global Conference on 5-7 October in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

And see you at next year’s EMEA Congress, happening 4-6 May in Prague, Czech Republic. Brzy se uvidíme

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: May 16, 2019 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)
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